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Joplin's Recovery Continues Two Years Later

Joplin After the Tornado
Photo Credit: Michele Skalicky

Two years ago at 5:41 in the evening, a massive tornado touched down on the west side of Joplin.  Mercy Joplin was hit full force by the storm that also destroyed thousands of buildings and left 161 people dead. 

Now, the Joplin area’s recovery continues, and city leaders are looking forward with high hopes.

Joplin Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean says they’re taking a tragedy and turning it into something positive.  A master developer is on the city’s staff now, and they have a chance, she says, to develop and grow the city exactly how they would like to see it 100 years from now. 

Cleanup has been accomplished through a partnership with the city, state and federal government and what’s left to do is to get plans off the ground and move forward…

"Putting some shovel into some dirt and saying, 'here's a project that we've been planning for two years now and you're finally seeing it come to fruition.'  We'd just like people to know that it takes time.  It takes time.  We don't want to rush it because this is our shot to do the city exactly how we would like for it to be," she said.

Progress is being made—the new Mercy Joplin continues to go up just north of I-44.  Joplin is getting a new library with a theatre over the top, and Colbert-Kean says there will also be loft over retail in that area.  A middle school and two elementary schools that were destroyed are being rebuilt and are expected to be completed at the end of the year.  And the high school and a technology center are scheduled for completion in 2014.

She hopes projects like those will spark even more development to keep Joplin moving forward.

Joplin plans an observance of the two-year anniversary of the tornado tomorrow (5/22) at 4:40 in Cunningham Park.  The theme is Resilience, Resolve and Realization—three characteristics Joplin citizens have demonstrated .  Colbert-Kean says there will be various tents set up at tomorrow's observance...

"And they're all going to focus on our growth, what we have in store for growing Joplin, you know, increasing our population, increasing our economic development, and the educational component will be there also," she said.

Presentations will focus on each area of the theme.  And trees will be given away.  The city asks anyone planning to come to take lawn chairs.

Colbert-Kean says observances like the one tomorrow are important so that no one ever forgets the tragic events of May 22, 2011…

"We have to always remember exactly the devastation, remember exactly the moment that Joplin unified even more so than any previous time, but unified and showed that we had the determination and resiliency to bring us up and out of this.  We have to remember those lives that were lost because those are people's families--that is part of Joplin's family.  We want everybody to know that we still remember, we'll never forget, but this is where we want you also to join in our moving on," she said.

Colbert-Kean continues to be amazed at the number of volunteers who still give up their vacation time and breaks from school to travel to Joplin to help with the recovery efforts.

To find out more about tomorrow’s observance, visit joplinmo.org.

For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.